My husband and I visited Messina Hof Winery & Resort back in February and I have treasured the memories of that trip ever since. In fact I meant to publish this review sooner, but there were so many wonderful memories, interesting experiences, and incredible food and wine that it took me a while to consolidate my thoughts. As we pulled into the gravel drive, most of the trees and shrubs were still dormant for the winter. Though barren of leaves, here and there a rose bud blossomed dropping a pop of pink into the otherwise sleepy environment.
There are old wooden picnic tables out front flanked by gray angelic statues. There is a quaint inn to the left, which reminded me a bit of the opening credits to Fawlty Towers. Unlike the show though, The Villa is very competently managed. In the center is the bar, wine tasting venue, and winery. To the right is The Vintage House Restaurant and more winery facilities.
The most curious structures on the property are without doubt a series of white fluffy towers. They look like tall silos covered in half melted marshmallows. We later learned that these are giant vats filled with wine and the thick white coating is insulation to protect the wine from Texas summer heat.
Before exploring, we checked into our room at The Villa. Each room in the inn is named after a romantic character or place in literature or history. We stayed in the Antoinette, which is named after the owner’s great grandmother in Italy. In the photos on the website, the Antoinette looks quite purple. In person it’s more of a wine-purple. Before, when we were comparing the rooms online, our four year old daughter was so enchanted by the purple Antoinete that she insisted we book that room. Her advice proved very solid, however we spent far more time exploring the winery than we did in our room.
Paul Bonarrigo, we learned, is a sixth generation winemaker who traces his roots to Messina, Italy. His wife, Merrill, traces her genealogy back to Hof, Germany. When the couple married and decided to launch one of the very first wineries in all of Texas, they called it Messina Hof, in honor of their European heritage. Today, Paul and Merrill’s son helps manage the flourishing brand. It’s comprised of Messina Hof Winery & Resort in Bryan, Messina Hof Hill Country Winery and Manor Haüs Bed & Breakfast in Fredericksburg, and the Messina Hof Grapevine Winery in Grapevine. All are open to the public and frequently host events.
After checking into our room we decided to explore the grounds. There is a pond behind The Tasting Room surrounded by trees and skirted by a little path. If you follow the path it takes you through the trees and out into the vineyard. There you’ll find a decorative stream and a wrought iron gazebo covered in climbing rose vines. It would be an absolutely exquisite spot for a wedding ceremony, particularly in the spring when the wisteria that runs rampant through the trees is in full bloom. We were already able to see a few purple clusters of wisteria even though it was only February. Of course, a summer or autumn wedding with a backdrop of grape-laden vines would be phenomenal as well.
We decided to fetch Jason’s classical guitar and my laptop so we could play music and write on the covered deck that overlooks the pond. I didn’t get much writing done as I was too busy watching a raucous gang of red-eared sliders who seemed to be under the impression that we had food. I also managed to catch sight of a good number of very large frogs and one extremely shy grass snake. I imagine it would be an excellent place to go bird watching, especially before grape harvest.
After enjoying the natural surroundings we embarked upon our winery tour, which was included with our stay at The Villa. A friendly young lady named Caroline showed us around, starting with a brief history of the owners, Paul and Merrell Bonarrigo, and the Bryan winery.
The Bryan winery was the original winery, and was founded back in the 70’s as one of only a few wineries in Texas. It was originally believed that Texas was far too hot during the summer to make wine, but improvements in storage and insulation techniques have made the process feasible. Paul experimented with several dozen types of grape vine, all of which failed to flourish, save for the Lenoir grape, which is still in use at his wineries today.
We were able to spy the first ruddy leaf buds of spring as we entered the vineyard. The vines are trellised on wire fences. The oldest are thick and knotted, while the younger vines are slender and fragile. The Lenoir grapes produced by these vines boast a deep purple juice, which is unusual as most grape’s juices are clear. This makes them excellent for red wines but especially excellent for wine-stomping. That’s right! Around harvest time, you can stomp grapes for wine at Messina Hof Winery.
One interesting thing we learned on our tour is that winemakers use roses in their vineyards for a lot more than decoration. Roses and grape vines often suffer the same types of fungus or plant ailments. However, roses are much more sensitive, and show symptoms earlier. By observing their roses, winemakers are able to identify health concerns before their vines begin to visibly suffer.
Inside the wine facility, we were able to see the giant insulated vats used for fermentation, the large machines used for processing the grapes by crushing and de-stemming them, and another machine used to strain the skins out for white wine.
Once inside the cellar we were able to see, smell, and feel the enormous oaken barrels used to store the wine following the fermentation process. These oak drums not only serve to oxygenate the wine, but also imbue it with a rich woody flavor. We were told that the cellar is a popular location for indoor weddings at the winery, and it isn’t hard to see why. The place has a rustic atmosphere steeped in tradition and a truly delicious aroma; spicy wine, nutty wood, and earthy stone.
Once we’d seen the cellar, Caroline took us back to the tasting room where we were able to try the Private Reserve Orange Muscat, Private Reserve Viognier, Private Reserve Merlot, and Midnight Yell Port. The Merlot recently won the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Best Of Class Award, and I have to say it was my favorite. The tasting was fun because we got to try some wine tasting techniques to bring out the flavors of each in a different way.
After that we decided to go ahead and use our wine and cheese credits, which also came with our stay at The Villa. Jason and I each got a glass of wine (I had the Cabernet Sauvignon) and enjoyed a tray of Cheddar, Swiss, Smoked Gouda, and Goat Cheese. The bar has a relaxing atmosphere and is the perfect pit-stop before (or after) dinner. There are several TVs in the bar so if you ever wanted to desecrate a perfect evening with sports television this would be the place to do it.
We then proceeded to The Vintage House Restaurant for dinner. I enjoyed the Seafood Scampi alongside a chardonnay, which was absolutely wonderful. Jason had the Veal Piccata with a Merlot. The staff was very friendly and attentive. The restaurant was fairly busy despite it being a weeknight, but definitely not to its full capacity. There was a young woman’s birthday party with about twenty guests, a few families, and a couple taking their elderly parents out for the evening.
While the restaurant is elegant, the patrons seemed very relaxed. Most people were dressed business-casual, but a few, who seemed to be regulars, came in cozy sweats. It was an interesting testament to the lifestyle standard Messina Hof embodies; luxury and excellence should be enjoyed regularly, preferably in a state of comfort and blissful nonchalance.
The next morning, Jason and I went down to breakfast, and who should join us but Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo themselves. The owners of Messina Hof, they are very down-to-earth people and their love for their earthy craft defines them. Paul had just come from the vineyard where it seemed he’d been since sunrise. Merrill too looked dressed and ready for some kind of gardening related enterprise. Paul sipped his champagne critically and complimented the staff on the excellence of the breakfast quiche. Merrill sought out a chocolate muffin, and the two happily chatted with guests and friends.
They are an extremely friendly pair, and very generous with their time and their resources. It struck me that they possibly took even more pleasure in seeing others enjoy their wines and amenities, than they did in creating and maintaining and them. More than wine-makers, the Bonarrigo’s are consummate and generous hosts. It is not surprising to me at all that they have over 40 upcoming events listed on their website calendar.
Having enjoyed dinner, we once again went out to the patio by the pond to drink in nature, play guitar, and write. And while our visit was a short one, it was defined by enjoying the beautiful environment and indulging in decadent cuisine and wines of Messina Hof.
I must say, this winery and resort is a dream-spot for a wedding, and if any of my daughters want to get married at an artsy venue, Messina Hof Winery in Bryan will likely be the first idea out of my mouth. The outdoor facilities are exquisite, and the cellar is the perfect solution for an intimate gathering, or as an alternative in the case of rain or excessive heat. In fact, there was a bride-to-be staying at The Villa while we were there, and her wedding was set for that weekend.
Messina Hof Winery is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Upcoming events include a Mother’s Day Brunch, recurring Wednesday Night Chocolate Nights, CLUE Murder Mystery Dinners, Cooking Parties, Wine Mixing & Pairing Classes, and the much anticipated Harvest Festival.